Tag Archives: Czerny

Rudy Apffel’s Czerny For Ballet Class blog

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Rudy Apffel's Czerny for Ballet Class Blog

Click the image to go to Rudy Apffel’s Czerny for Ballet Class Blog

Absolutely thrilled to discover Rudy Apfells’ Czerny for Ballet Class blog  — lovely recordings of huge numbers of Czerny exercises, together with reimaginings/reworkings of them (see here for a description of the project) lots of interesting commentary, and downloadable scores. 

Not content with just one reworking, some exercises, like Op 335 No. 6 have six.

Czerny Op. 335 No. 6

Czerny Op 335 No. 6: reworked in six different versions by Rudy Apffel

In the wrong hands (what a great metaphor for a pianist-related post!) this kind of music can  sound so drab, just the kind of thing that should be banned from ballet classes forever. But Apffel’s reworkings are witty and clever, and hold a mirror back to the original that make you hear it differently. There’s one in the style of Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights,” for example, but my favourite is the jazz waltz rendering. If you didn’t know it was based on Czerny, you could believe it had been a No. 1 chanson in Paris in the 1950s. Sometimes when you come to rearrange things like this you realize that the underlying composition is cleverer than you realized, obscured by a patina of tired familiarity. 

This is such a magnificent labour of love, but I fully understand Apffel’s fascination with Czerny.  I think it’s Taruskin who said that there are two Beethovens (or Bachs? Or Mozarts?—I’ll correct this if I’m wrong another time) —there’s Beethoven, and “Beethoven.”  The one in scare quotes is the composer that comes with all the baggage—the music appreciation classes you hated, the feeling that you had to like the music even if you didn’t, the way that people look in concert halls as they’re listening to his music. Without the scare quotes, you might feel quite differently about the music (for good or ill, as it happens, with some of the great names). 

Likewise, with Czerny: there’s Czerny the fun composer, Czerny the man who worked like crazy, with so many simultaneous projects on the go that he reputedly set them all out on different desks in his study, spending an hour at each in succession in order to make progress on them all (even if the story isn’t true, I love it); Czerny whose exercises dance and sing and convey drama. Then there’s “Czerny,” the scourge of young pianists, who are handed the books of exercises as if they were not really music, but “merely” technical machines to improve technique, like those things 19th dancers used to splay their feet in to improve their turnout. “Czerny” the abandoned sheet music in the Oxfam shop, with a stained cover, musty smell, and pencilled ticks and music teachers’ fingerings in.  I feel sick just thinking about it. 

Take away the scare quotes, and there’s a joyful, imaginative composer here with a staggering wealth of material, and that’s what Rudy Apffel is mining with his new arrangements and reimaginings. There’s a danger that you might miss Apffel’s humour and ingenuity if you just turn on a single track and think “I wonder if I could use this for tendus?” Get inside the music, listen to them as a series, compare one with the other, and this is a wonderful musical journey.  One of the things I especially like is the use of technology to do the impossible—freely admitted by Apffel!— as in this Schubert-Impromptu-Meets-Czerny-Op 335 No. 18

And finally: *that* Tarantella by Czerny is finally identified

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For anyone who was following my posts about the sources for Czerny’s music in Etudes, I’m very happy to say that someone has finally filled in the last piece of the jigsaw: the tarantella is from  Op. 834 No. 27 (see comment here).  Thank you Gabri!

That Czerny tarantella from Etudes – found but unidentified

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Posters in an Italian piano forum have been playing the same game as me – trying to identify the Czerny studies used in Riisager’s ballet Etudes. In my post on the subject, I managed to trace all of them (leaving aside any short quotes that Riisager may have thrown in along the way that I failed to recognise as quotes).

The one that I couldn’t trace was the tarantella – but those Italians have found it. Or nearly. They’ve found a score of it, in an anthology of Czerny studies published by Presser in 1906, freely available at Open Library. The tarantella is on page 66-67. The only trouble is, Emil Liebling may have “revised, edited and fingered” the studies “with annotations”, but he didn’t bother to identify them. Someone (like me) has been through with a pencil, marking the opus numbers of each study, but (also like me) couldn’t identify the tarantella.

The Italians found my page on Czerny and posted a link to it, noting that I hadn’t – (unlike them) – found the tarantella. “Per solidarietà, potrei scrivergli e dargli il suo pezzo mancante” says one of the posters – out of solidarity, you could write and give him the missing piece (message 50).  Yes, out of solidarity, you could have done, that would have been very nice. But it would be even nicer if you could actually identify which book/opus number the study is.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Schenker, Nicholas Cook & a food processor taught me about piano fingering

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"Beyond the Score" and the implement that helped me understand Schenker's complaint about piano fingering

“Beyond the Score” and the implement that helped me understand Schenker’s complaint about piano fingering

By what turns out to be a happy coincidence, I managed this week to combine reading Nicholas Cook’s Beyond the Score: Music as Performance with an accident in which I sliced the end of the fourth finger on my right hand while I was washing up the blade of a food processor (see illustration on the left).  I picked it up and turned it so I could make it really nice and clean, and of course, in doing so, I made a little manual food processor in the sink, to which my finger fell victim. Needless to say, for a pianist, this is bad news. Since it hurt so much to put any pressure on that finger, I didn’t even try until I really had to, which was a class & rehearsal last Thursday night.  One attempt to play on it during pliés  was all it took to realise that I’d have to change my usual piano fingering so that I could play everything without a fourth RH finger. That made quite a difference to tunes that I usually play almost the same way every time: a lot more clarity and power in the phrasing, because you’re not weakening your tune-playing fingers by trying to do other stuff at the same time.

Schenker and piano fingering

As I was playing, I thought of a passage in Beyond the Score where Cook describes Schenker’s disdain for the ‘cult of velocity’ and the 19th century idea of all-purpose fingering systems. Schenker argued that each piece had it’s own ‘special fingering’ and ‘special dynamics’ (Schenker 2000:77, cited in Cook 2013: 41). His own style of piano fingering was apparently aimed at bringing out the sense of the music rather than being convenient physically. He (Schenker) was critical of Broadwood’s English action, saying that

perfect evenness of touch has arrived. Simultaneously, music training has for decades striven for perfect evenness also of the fingers. Thus, we are faced with evenness of fingers and keys. We could be pleased by this development if – what irony! – precisely the opposite were not the crux of the matter: unevenness! The fingers, by nature uneven, must play unevenly: all effort in practicing is in vain if it does not aim at unevenness in performance. (Schenker 2000: 77, cited in Cook 2014: 42) [scroll to the end for references]

I remember having a mental jolt when I read that, given that my entire pianistic life has been spent in the pursuit of exactly what Schenker criticised. I don’t think my teachers drummed it into me – two of my teachers, Trissie Cox and Antony Saunders, would often suggest unusual fingerings like playing a motif in the left hand with your thumb to give it oomph, or sliding from a black key to a white one with the same finger, and then there’s the trick of fingering mordents 1-3-2.  But the aim for evenness of touch is all around you – Czerny, Hanon, and those endless scales and arpeggios that you learn for ABRSM exams.

Schenkerian piano fingering – an example from La Sylphide

I thought no more of it until last Thursday night when I had to play the reel from La Sylphide, which, I can tell you, is pretty hard without a fourth finger. When it got to the B flat section, I realised with the clarity that only having sliced your finger with a blade gives you, that Schenker was brilliantly right about this. Previously, I’d have done the physically convenient thing, and fingered the opening D-Eflat-F in the right hand with the fingering 3-4-5, which makes the whole bar lie under one hand position. But there was no way I could do that this time, and in the heat of the moment, I came out with the fingering below:

Reel from La Sylphide

How I fingered this bit of the reel without a fourth finger. It works.

This section looks so much fun on paper, but it never sounded as good as I wanted it to until I put this “emergency” fingering into action. It’s a bit messy – especially the hopping over your own thumb to play the quaver B flat on the second half of the second beat in the first bar – but it sounds a whole lot better musically than starting with 3-4-5 and using the same hand position for the whole bar. If you finger the slide up to the F with 1-2-3, you get a real punch out of the F and a lot of ring out of the appoggiatura. By hopping from 1 to 1 on the C and D on beats 3 and 4, you get a much better staccato than fingering it 2-4-3-5.  And that hop over the thumb to play the B flat with 2 results in a light staccato for that note – whereas with the ‘convenient’ fingering, this relatively weak beat/note gets the whole weight of your thumb.

Chord voicing and piano fingering

Another insight was chord voicing. The standard pattern for a big chord in the RH is an octave with two filler notes. By the time I’d accidentally hit my injured finger a few times during the piece, there was no way I was going to hit it again for the sake of a major third that was already present in the bass (the chord was a first inversion F major in the right, ACFA, with an octave F in the left) so I missed it out. I realised then that trying to play four-note chords because you can is pretty pointless. Including the fourth finger weakens the attack that you can give to your fifth. The 4th is weak, so you don’t get a lot of sound out whatever note is under it. So, frankly, why bother? Why not try different voicings, and if missing out a note actually sounds better, do it.

Piano fingering in Snowflakes from The Nutcracker

Next on the playlist was “Snowflakes” from The Nutcracker, and for the first time in my life, those twiddles in the right hand actually sounded like a piccolo, because I had to play all of them 1-3-1 rather than sort out how to avoid using my 4th finger. Interestingly, one of the only places where Taneev indicates fingering is during this massive countermelody in the bass – for which he suggests a thumb on every note. Combine that with 1-3-1 for the right hand notes (forget about the lower octaves – they add little, compared to what leaving them out enables you to do, I discovered), and this begins to sound a lot more like an orchestra.

Taneev's fingering for part of Snowflakes.

Taneev’s fingering for part of Snowflakes.

So the happy part of the coincidence is that this embodied-knowledge encounter with a food processor blade, combined with Cook’s wonderful scholarship,  made Schenker’s thoughts on pianism come to life in fascinating, practical ways. It’s rather a messy, bloody and painful way to enlightenment, though. Save yourself the trouble – take Schenker’s word for it, and discover what relying on the unevenness of your fingers can do for making your playing sound more musical.

References

Cook, Nicholas. 2013. Beyond the Score: Music as Performance. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schenker, Heinrich. 2000. The Art of Performance. Heribert Esser, ed., Irene Schreier Scott, trans. New York: Oxford University Press

Études (ballet) – the sources for Riisager’s score

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Etudes ballet music: beginning of the ronds de jambe en l'air music

Ronds de jambe, Op. 355 No. 1, one of the pieces used in the Études ballet music

A commenter who’d read one of my posts about my searches for the Czerny sources for Riisager’s ballet Etudes (see this post, too) asked if I’d ever made a list of those sources. I don’t know why I didn’t do it before – but with one gap that I hope I can fill in soon (the tarantella), here’s the list. Scroll to the end for notes on the numbering/naming of the Etudes ballet music, and links to free downloads of the Czerny scores.

[unnumbered] 1. Overture (Allegro molto): Op. 299, No. 9 (possibly a bit of  Op 740 No. 1 too)

Exercises à la barre

[1] 2. Moderato (Tendus, grands battements, fondus, frappés)

  • Op 261 No. 23 (C major, thirds)
  • Op 740 No 32 (C major, repeated notes)
  • Op 740 No. 12 (D minor, theme)
  • Op. 355 No. 9 (C major, dotted rhythms)

[2] 3. Molto leggiero e scherzando (Ronds de jambe) Op. 355 No. 1

[3] 4. Andante (Silhouette barre):  Op. 335 No. 37

Au milieu 

[4] 5. Andante sostenuto (Adagio):  Op. 335  No. 20

[5] 6 & 7 Moderato (Port de bras et pas de badin): 

  • Op. 821 No. 4
  • Op 299 No. 27

[5a] 8. Moderato (Mirror dance): Op. 139 No. 54

[5b] 9. Allegro animato (Ensemble):  740 No. 45 (A flat major)

[6] 10. Andantino (Pas de deux romantique*): Op. 335 No. 39

[6a] 11. Allegro animato (Sortie): Repeat of  Op. 740 No. 45

[6b] 11a. Andante (interpolation) (Conclusion): repeat of Op. 335 No. 37

[7] 12. Allegro vivo (Pirouettes)  Op. 335 No. 16

[8] 13. Allegretto scherzando (Relevés) Op. 335 No. 35

[9] 14. Vivace (Piqués and grands pirouettes) Op. 740 No. 49 (Octaves)

       15. Allegro vivo  Op. 636 No. 17 [en diagonal]

[10] 6: Allegrissimo (Prima ballerina solo) Op. 299 No. 40

[10a] 17. Vivace (Coda*)  (Repeat of No. 12, Op. 740 No. 49)

[11] 18. Allegro (Small leaps) [“Hoppity hop”] 

  • Op. 335 No. 19
  • Op. 299 17 (F, trans. in E)

19. Allegro (Pas de quatre) 

  • Op. 740 No. 40

20. Allegro Op. 740 No. 16 (but possibly with something else mixed in)

21. Allegro (Brisés) [“Boys brisés] Op. 821 No. 89 (C# minor, trans. G minor)

[12] 22. Mazurka: Op. 355 No. 36

[13] 23. Tarantella  [“Jetés] (Missing source: – A minor, in 6/8, in (double) octaves) Update on 29th May 2014 – see this post  and a link to the score – but no opus number 

[14] 24. Vivace (Broad leaps) [“1st finale”]: Op. 740 – 37  (D minor)

25. Maestoso: [“Principals”]  Op. 740 15 (E flat major, transp. to D)

26: Vif  [“2nd finale”]  Op. 365 No. 45 (A minor)

Notes on the naming and numbering of the Etudes ballet music

  • Numbers in square brackets [#] refer to the numbering in the orchestral score
  • Secondary numbers after the bracketed numbers refer to the numbering in the piano reduction, and correspond also to the numbering in the inlay booklet for the Terence Kern recording with London Festival Ballet orchestra, Cat. No. 7243 5 69089 2 5). Please note that these numbers refer to the order of the score, they’re not track numbers. Score numbers and track numbers sometimes match, but in the case of 6 & 7, for example, which are both on one track, the score numbering gets out of sync with the track numbers. 
  • The first title (i.e. things like ‘allegro’ and ‘vif’ are taken from the Terence Kern recording (see above).
  • Descriptive titles in round brackets (tendus, pirouettes etc.) are taken from the Danish Radio Orchestra recording with Rozhdestvensky , and match with the titles in the piano reduction.
  • Titles in square brackets and in inverted commas [“First finale”] are what these sections are known as colloquially in rehearsal.
  • Information in round brackets after the opus numbers are just ‘notes to self’ for me, to identify which etude I’m talking about without having to refer back to the score.
  • The main source I’m missing is the tarantella. In the score it’s in A minor, but Riisager may have transposed it, as he has a couple of the other studies.
  • Riisager quotes bits and pieces from other studies within the orchestral texture I think, so I may well have missed other sources. For example, I think  there is a bit of Op.  821 No. 22 in there somewhere, but I’ll have to listen through again to see where I think I heard it.
  • All the sources are now available online, mostly from IMSLP – see links below. I am grateful to two commenters who directed me a) to a source for the tararantella and b) to a recent upload of book two of Op. 355 at IMSLP (for the mazurka).

Sources from the IMSLP and one from the Henselt Library: 

 

New Czerny upload at the IMSLP

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It might seem such a small thing, but I’m thrilled to see that someone has recently uploaded Czerny’s School of Legato and Staccato Op. 335 to the IMSLP. The interest in Op. 335 for ballet people  is that it has several of the exercises that feature in Riisager’s ballet Etudes, including the silhouette barre and the adage, plus several other great bouncy pieces suitable for allegro.  For my taste, one of the most underrated dance music composers of the 19th century.

I’ve already posted about my joy at finally tracking this down at the University of London Library (The Joy of Libraries & My Czech mate Czerny) but it’s so frustrating that unless you do that kind of sleuthing, you’re left with the same few sets of exercises circulated by publishers. The IMSLP is probably one of the greatest resources in the world for music, because it helps to bring such perfectly preserved, rare and usable materials to a worldwide audience, all free of charge.

Despite my enthusiasm for new technology, nothing beats my enthusiasm for books and libraries when it comes to materials. The other day at the RAD library, I had in my hands the orchestral parts for a variation from Giselle that belonged to Karsavina, all written by hand, perfectly preserved, and making as much sense to me as music as they did to the orchestras that would have played them nearly a hundred years ago.  I could give them to an orchestra now, and we could recreate the music at a moment’s notice.

Wot not books?

It frightens me when libraries are threatened with closure (see the Wot No Books campaign for a wonderful protest). Who fills the gap and controls the information flow and culture when they go? Rupert Murdoch? A political party? Wikipedia? Microsoft? And if access to books is no longer free and shareable (welcome to Kindleworld), what does this say about who may learn?

More joys of libraries & Der gestohlene Abend

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The Institute of Education, London at twilight today

The Institute of Education, London at twilight today

It’s some time now since I finished Wolfram Fleischhauer’s latest novel, Der gestohlene Abend, which I enjoyed so much I wanted to blog about it even before I’d got past page two. But the trouble with his novels are that it’s difficult to describe why you like them so much without giving away one of the greatest causes of the enjoyment, which are his plots.

Then on Wednesday, on my way to Roehampton University to get hold of some articles that were unavailable elsewhere, I realised what it was that I had enjoyed so much about this latest novel, and indeed all his novels.

As I was climbing the interminable West Hill on my bike, freezing my face off and trying to avoid ice patches, then emerging in the quasi countryside of the bit beyond Tibbet’s corner (and nearly coming off my bike in some frozen mud in the underpass), I began to feel a sense of exhilaration and excitement at the thought of finally being able to read these two articles (a very critical review and an author’s response to it) that were so hard to get hold of.

It was partly the physical challenge of getting at the stuff that made reading it so much more exciting.  It’s an odd way to get your kicks, I thought. And then I realised that I’ve always been a bit like this about books and information – the more obscure and difficult to get at it is, the more fascination it holds (see here, for example). It’s a similar concept to Walter Benjamin’s ‘aura’ – by the time I got to the journals section of the library, and finally found the item I had seen referred to so often, but never seen in the flesh, the journal seemed to vibrate and radiate aura on its shelf.

And then I remembered that this is often what happens in Fleischhauer’s novels.  There’s a search for some truth that is not necessarily even hidden, it’s just that no-one except one of his protagonists can be bothered to look for it, because the journey is hard. It usually involves a real, physical journey, and physical encounters with obstacles to information like difficult librarians, illness, early closing, being attacked, or hindrances like misinformation, concealment, or simply mistakes. It might involve detours and time-consuming blind-alleys, or having to gain new skills and knowledge in an unfamiliar field.

The search for truth, which often hangs on some minuscule detail, involves his heroes and their circle in adventures which are every bit as exciting as the truth that is about to revealed, and the reverse is true too: Fleischhauer’s searches for truth are like cognitive car chases.  His novels are, even if this is not their main aim, tales of the thrill of investigation and curiosity.  You rejoice that your hero refuses to let things pass until he or she has solved the mystery, crime, conundrum that everyone else is happy to leave alone. And sometimes, things you’ve been looking at all the while (like the title of the book) are found to reveal unexpected secrets and meanings.

Funnily enough, I wouldn’t have been able to describe my excitement in Walter Benjamin terms had I not been reminded of the  book in Der gestohlene Abend. I must –  finally – read that book, I thought, and so I did. Benjamin’s book is about art works in an age of mechanical reproduction, but every time I visit a library, I get an excitement about being in the presence of information,  and the possibility of finding things in some quiet corner that no-one looks at, that is unrivalled by anything you can do or find on the web.

Der gestohlene Abend on Amazon.de

The joy of libraries and my Czech mate Czerny

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It’s not often that I get goosebumps sitting in a library, but I came pretty near to it yesterday on a trip to the University of London Library. I have been looking for months for the Czerny piano studies on which Riisager’s ballet Etudes was based. I had traced about half of them, but some – in particular those that I like most – I simply could not find. Having trawled through all the online, digitized scores, I kept coming across the same old books over and over again (the School of Velocity). Then I spent a day walking round London’s music shops – the same story.

My last hope (and I’d nearly given up) was a library, and Senate House appeared to have some Czerny I hadn’t heard of on the stacks. Possibly one of the nicest people ever to sit behind a stack service desk fetched me four enormous volumes of Czerny from somewhere in the bowels of Malet Street.

And there they were, those elusive etudes, in a set of books that from their good condition appeared not to have been opened since 1838 when they were published. This was a different Czerny to the one I knew from being a piano student, and it was suddenly easy to see how Riisager got the inspiration for Etudes. Dance permeates these studies to the extent that you’d think Czerny must have done the 19th century equivalent of clubbing every night and come home so loved-up and buzzing that he just had to write exercises the way other people put on their favourite trance album. Saint-Saëns did him an enormous disservice by caricaturing him in Carnival of the Animals with the exercises in thirds. He might have been born in Austria, and associated with Beethoven, but he was Czech – his father came from Nymburk in Bohemia, which explains a lot about the good-naturedness of his music. It also explains why there’s a Czerny Piano competition in Prague.

Think about it – these books are 166 years old, and still in perfect condition. It took less than 5 minutes to get them from the stack shelves, and probably about half an hour to flick through about 1500 pages to find what I wanted. By conrast, I have already lost innumerable music files that I created using version 1 of Logic on my Atari only 12 years ago, and even with broadband, you can’t ‘flick’ through a digitized score.

All of which reminds me of an article I read in July this year by Bruce Stirling of Wired Magazine. He wrote a piece in the Daily Telegraph called Delete Our Cultural Heritage?. His point is that the world is suffering ‘a silent phenomenon of “digital decay”‘; whereas books last centuries, the rapid obsolescence of computers and electronic storage methods means that things that we created only 10 years ago may be irretrievable unless they have been printed out, filed and catalogued – and as Stirling says, can you be bothered? It’s not until you come across an endangered species such as the Czerny pieces, that you realise that future generations may have less to remind them of the 20th century than they do of the 19th.